Hamsters make wonderful first-time pets, especially for youngsters. They are small and lovable and are fairly easy and inexpensive to keep. Children as young as three can be good hamster owners, but must be closely supervised when handling the hamster and have an adult to help with cleaning and care. A mature ten-year-old could be ready to care for a hamster all on their own.
The ideal hamster for beginners is between 4 and 7 weeks old. Hamsters are easier to train when they are young. Choose a hamster that is sociable, relaxes in your hand, washes himself and seems plump, bright-eyed, alert and curious about you. Choose only one hamster; they are solitary creatures and should not be housed with other hamsters. Even if they come from the same litter, they will either breed immediately (and you will have oodles of hamsters) or they will fight, often to the death.
Provide your hamster with a cage large enough to allow him sufficient room to exercise, have a quiet place to sleep and contain a thick layer of shavings as bedding on the cage floor. A 2 square-foot cage is the recommended size for your pet hamster. Cover the floor of your hamster’s cage with a 2-inch thick layer of bedding. Aspen wood shavings are recommended as the best because they are absorbent and nontoxic.
Your hamster’s cage should be cleaned at least once a week. Remove your pet to a safe location. Clean the cage with a solution of water and a small amount of household disinfectant. Wipe out any debris, dry the inside thoroughly and add clean bedding before returning your hamster to the cage.
Provide your hamster with plenty of chew toys. They love to chew on toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Also attach wood chews to the side of the hamster cage. An exercise wheel placed inside the cage will provide your hamster with hours of safe exercise. You may also purchase a hamster ball from your pet supply store. This will allow your hamster to exercise safely outside of his cage. Be sure to keep the hamster ball away from stairs; a fall down stairs can result in serious injury to your pet!
You should make a box for your hamster to sleep in. Cut a 2-inch doorway in a small, closed cardboard box and place it in the corner of the cage. The hamster will fill the box with bedding and chewed-up pieces of cardboard from the toilet paper and paper towel tubes and will use the box as a bedroom. Your pet will not urinate in the box, so you can use it for many months before replacing it.
Provide your hamster with a clean, filled water bottle with sipper spout, attached to the cage at a height where the spout is reachable by the hamster but does not touch the bedding. If the bedding gets wet, it can rot and cause your hamster to get sick with a sometimes fatal infection.
Feed your hamster a commercially formulated food made especially for hamsters, once or twice daily. Small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables should also be provided year-round. When introducing new foods to your hamster, initially feed small portions to allow your pet’s system to become used to it. Remove any uneaten fruits and vegetables after two days. Foods that have turned moldy can make your hamster sick.
Always place your hamster’s cage in a location away from drafts and out of direct sunlight. Make sure it is located in a spot in your house where you can frequently visit your pet. And place it out of reach of other household pets who may be a threat to your hamster. You should handle your hamster daily in order to tame him and you should reward him for calm behavior with vegetable treats.
Remember that hamsters have relatively poor eyesight so never sneak up on your pet. And since he relies heavily on his sense of smell to recognize other animals, you should never approach your hamster with fingers that smell like food.
Do not give your hamster a bath. Hamsters clean themselves. If your pet seems to smell bad, the odor is probably coming from dirty bedding in his cage. Clean your hamster’s cage more often to keep it smelling clean.
Hamsters can catch the human cold virus, so avoid contact with your pet if you are sick and keep your hamster away from people with colds. If your hamster needs medical attention, consult a veterinarian promptly; a sick hamster can die quickly.
If you go on vacation or are going to be away from home for more than three days, find someone who can take care of your hamster or take your pet with you.
Hamsters can live for up to five years, but even well cared for hamsters may live shorter lives. Be sure to make the most of the time you have together with your pet!